A common question posed by many people is: “If the Ahaadith of Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) are a commentary of the Noble Qur’an, then what is the need for making Taqleed of an Imaam?”
In order to understand the answer to this question, a brief discussion of the history of the Mazaahib (schools of thought) is necessary.
It is the divine system of Allah Ta’ala that he provided means for the fulfilment of every need of man. Furthermore, in proportion to the need, adequate means have been provided for its fulfilment. Consider the need for water and air. Besides raining down water from the skies, Allah Ta’ala made it possible to acquire water from many sources with relative ease. As for air, since man requires air every second, it has been provided free everywhere. All one needs to do is breathe. Thus Allah Ta’ala has provided for all the physical needs of man.
More important than every physical need is the spiritual need of man. He needs to recognise his creator and worship him. This is the purpose of his existence on earth. Hence Allah Ta’ala instituted divine measures to fulfil this greatest need of every human being.
Allah Ta’ala declares in the glorious Qur’an:
In this verse Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala explicitly and emphatically declares that He himself has taken the responsibility of protecting the Qur’an. For the enactment of this divine responsibility, of protecting the greatest book “Al-Qur’an”, Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala utilized the greatest of His creation after the Ambiyaa (Alayhimus Salam), who were none other than the auspicious Sahabah (Radiyallahu Anhum).
Then came the time for the compilation and preservation of the commentary of the Qur’an (i.e. the Ahaadith of Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam)). For this mammoth task Allah Ta’ala utilized the Sahabah (Radiyallahu Anhum) as well as the Taabi’een and the Tabe-Tabi’een (Rahmatullahi Alaihim).
Thereafter the need arose for the laws of the Qur’an and Hadith. Systemizing the laws of Shari’ah required discerning and differentiating between the previous abrogated laws and the latter laws which replaced them, deciphering between the authentic and unauthentic narrations, categorizing the status of injunctions and prohibitions (Farz, Wajib, Sunnat, Mustahab, Mubaah, Haraam, Makroo-e-Tahrimi, Makrooh-e-Tanzihi, Kilaaf-e-Awlaa) and finally formulating principles in the light of Qur’an and Hadith which govern the deduction of non-textual situations. All of the above needed to be accomplished in order to correctly practice upon each law of Shari’ah in the manner it was revealed by Allah Ta’ala upon Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam).
The accomplishment of such a tremendous task was only possible by a selected class of Allah’s servants, whose phenomenal expertise and unparalleled proficiency cover every science of Deen. This class of people are classified in the terminology of the jurists as Mujtahideen.
There were only a limited number of these highly qualified specialists of Deen in the time of Sahabah (Radiyallahu Anhum), Tabieen and Tabe-Tabieen (Rahmatullahi Alayhim).
From the Sahabah (Radiyallahu Anhum):
Among the Sahaba (Radiyallahu Anhum), the following personalities were known as the Mujtahideen:
The four Kulafaa-e-Raasihdeen (Radiyallahu Anhum), Abdullah bin Masood, Hazrat Ibne-Abbaas, Abdullah bin Amr, Abdullah bin Umar, Mu’aaz bin jabl and a few others (Radiyallahu Anhum).
From the Tabieen and Tab-e-Taabieen:
Among the well-known Mujtahideen of the second era were:
Imaam Abu Hanifah, Sha’bi, Ebrahim Nakaai, Alqamah, Imaam Maalik, Imaam Shafi’ee, Imaam Ahmed, Imaam Auzai, Lais bin Sa’d and others (Rahmatullahi Alaihim).
Only Allah Ta’ala knows, in his infinite and unquestionable wisdom, why he hand picked this elite group for the office of Ijtihaad. These special servants of Allah Ta’ala continued to serve the creation and water the fields of Deen. In their era they were the centre of attraction in solving the Deeni Masaail (Questions pertaining to Deen) of the day.
The Mazaahib of many of these great men were recorded for the benefit of the coming generations. However, with the passage of time, due to the various wars and other tragic situations recorded in history, the works of theses Mujtahideen in its entirety were no longer preserved. Hence to date, only scattered portions of undetailed information regarding their mazhabs have been recorded. It was the divine decree of Allah Ta’ala that only the works of the four Ai’mmah-Mujtahideen, in its entirety, remain preserved.
Furthermore, the latter Ulama thoroughly examined and scrutinized the mazahib of these four Imaams in the light of Qur’an and Hadith. For centuries thereafter these mazaahib were tried and tested by the luminaries of Islaam, the likes of Imaam Daare Qutni, Hafiz Baihaqi, Hafiz Ibne Hajar, Allama Aini, Imaam Nawawi, Hafiz Zailaee, Imaam Tahawi, Hafiz Ibne Abdil Bar, Ibne- Arabi, Hafiz Ibnul Jawzi and many others.
Thus the four mazaahib received the acceptance of thousands of specialists. All these doctors of their field unanimously attested to the unmatched mastery of the four Imaams and admitted their inability to produce a masterpiece mazhab like that of theses Imaams. These Ulama further supported and corroborated the four mazaahib, that all are firmly based on the Qur’an and Sunnah.
Hence in this time and age, for one to intend to personally review the shari’ah and formulate principles that govern the deduction of masaail would be akin to re-inventing the wheel.
Nevertheless, the Ulama are in agreement that although the doors of ijtihaad have not been closed, however, after the third century no one has met the criteria of being a mujtahid. These few people who claimed to be on the pedestal of ijtihaad were tested by the Ulama of the time and after being proven academically incompetent, were disqualified and rejected.